Down the dusty streets of Siem Reap we drove, past the street food stalls, bustling markets and shophouses. We stop on a nondescript street. A gate opens, and we meander down a winding driveway fringed by manicured meadows dotted by stilted huts. The view from the lobby renders us speechless. Over 4,000 square metres of lush rice fields are sprawled before us. Local farmers are bent over them, harvesting crops by hand. At a distance, wandering water buffaloes plough the fields. We’re in the Cambodian countryside. But lest we forget where we really are, an infinity pool, flanked by towering palm trees resting at the end of a boardwalk and framed by an adjacent bar, reminds us that we’re in Phum Baitang.
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“It’s a village within a village,” says David Ashworth, general manager of the hotel. Meaning ‘green village’ in Khmer, it was the second to open under Zannier Hotels, and one of two bases on our trip to Siem Reap with Mr & Mrs Smith. In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the travel club whisked us to Siem Reap (the Cambodian city was chosen for its diversity in experiences) where its expertise for discovering unique boutique boltholes led to our stay in two hideaways, one of which is Phum Baitang.
A short buggy ride later, we’ve checked into our terrace villa that looks right at home with its Khmer-style thatched roofs and timber structure. Inside, the interiors organically blend into its surrounds. Elegantly rustic and earth-toned, natural colours and textures of weathered wood and stone are stylishly mixed with handmade furnishings, such as a carved headboard and oversized egg-shape baths made from local stone. Distinctly local touches are few, but hardly needed in a setting so authentic.
Ensconce yourself in a cocoon of Khmer life — it’s at its most beautiful here. Little demands your attention. Catch up on a holiday read on the comfy couch of your terrace, or sip a cocktail by the pool before you watch the sun dip past the fields from the cocktail and cigar lounge. It’s as authentic as it gets at a luxury hotel.
Closer to town and a more traditional picture of high-end hospitality is Belmond La Residence d’Angkor, our second base for the weekend. Belmond’s reputation for classic luxury is unrivalled; it counts 46 iconic hotels, trains and river cruises under its name, including this timeless retreat.
Beyond the tropical walled gardens of La Residence d’Angkor lies a leafy sanctuary. Created with local design in mind, it features a teak-made structure and tiles found in Khmer homes and offices. Towering roofs are spotted all around the property. Management disclose that rich Khmers would build their roofs this way to show their health. “The higher the roof, the bigger the loot,” they say.
The hotel’s centrepiece is its 35m saltwater pool cloaked by dense foliage and surrounded by sun loungers and Angkorian sculptures. Lucky for us, the pool is our backyard, with the Garden Junior Suite mere footsteps away. Inside, rooms feature artwork by contemporary Khmer artists, and are accented by traditional handwoven silks and hand-carved teak furnishings. The touch of classic Khmer luxury continues at the spa, where local treatments are on offer, such as heated herbal compresses used alongside massages. In a retreat so idyllic, it’s easy to forget that we’re in the thick of Siem Reap’s action. It’s a quick drive to the sprawling Angkor complex and mere minutes away from some of the town’s finest restaurants, bars and markets.
While drastically different in design, both hotels chosen by Mr & Mrs Smith are happy hideaways for escapists and the adventure-hungry. Complete your stay with the help of the travel club’s team of experts. We were whisked away to some of Siem Reap’s biggest draws: A thorough sunrise tour of Angkor Wat and Phare, The Cambodian Circus, a show that spotlights Khmer folklore and supports free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang. Planning a weekend getaway? It’s done and dusted.